World tennis No. 1 Rafael Nadal, a fervent poker player since a knee injury sidelined him from his day job last year, will play his first live poker tournament next month, the tournament’s organizers said on Wednesday.
Nadal will play in a charity tournament in Prague on Dec. 12 — part of the European Poker Tour, to be held from Dec. 8 to Dec. 18, said online gaming firm PokerStars, with whom Nadal has an endorsement deal.
“Rafa will play against some of the biggest names on the international professional poker circuit, along with other sporting legends, who will be announced over the coming weeks,” the company said.
So far the Spanish tennis champion has only played in online poker tournaments.
“I have been playing poker online for almost 18 months and now I’m looking forward to the challenge of playing my first live tournament,” Nadal, 27, said in a statement released by PokerStars.
“It’s no secret that I love the competition and that’s what I like about poker,” he said. “It’s a game of skill that requires mental strength and the ability to outthink your opponents, and in that way there are similarities to tennis.”
Nadal’s “poker coach,” Alfonso Cardalda, recently told journalists in the Czech Republic his trainee had started out with only a “basic notion” of poker but had made rapid progress thanks to his “competitive spirit.”
Since withdrawing from tennis in July last year, Nadal has made a blistering return to tennis from his career-threatening knee injury, winning 10 titles — including the French and US opens — in the past 10 months and closing out the season this year ranked No. 1 in the world, which is the third time he has held that position.